Dementia is a horrible disease.

Often robbing people of their dignity, seeing memories of happy times simply fade away, straining familial relationships to breaking point and leaving relatives backed into an unenviable position of feeling they should be doing something, anything, more to help.

I know, I’ve seen it first hand with family members – and I’m sure many of you have as well.

All of which had me approaching Relic with something akin to trepidation, as how could a filmmaker put all the above on screen, while also serving up the regulation chills of a ‘horror movie’?

I honestly need not have worried, as writer/director Natalie Erika James has not only delivered a film that treats the issue of dementia with the respect it deserves – it’s also bloody creepy to boot.

Subtle, adult, tense as hell and ultimately moving, there are all sorts of emotions at play here, from confusion to anger, ignorance to guilt.

The guilt (eventually) comes in the form of Kay, played by Emily Mortimer, who returns to her home in the sticks (the film is set in Australia) to try and locate her mother, who just seems to have vanished into thin air.

Put on the spot by police as to the last time she spoke to her mother, Mortimer fudges, insisting she’s ‘been busy’. But her eyes suggest it has been quite some time – and she knows it.

Kay is accompanied by her own daughter, Sam (Bella Heathcote), a confident, clever young adult who clearly has a stronger relationship with her nan than her mother does.

There are police searches and inquiries and the pair poking around the nan/mother’s dark, foreboding home, until the nan Edna (Robyn Nevin) turns up as mysteriously as she disappeared, dishevelled, disoriented and covered in bruises.

From there it is a battle for the pair to uncover both the truth of Edna’s vanishing act, as well as to try and work out just what is happening to them inside the house.

Spurred on by visual clues, bumps in the night and the sense that the house is very much ‘alive’, Relic is brutally simple but oh-so effective, with scenes of Mortimer and Heathcote becoming trapped in never-ending corridors a masterclass of tension.

Will they find answers? Will mother and daughter find the peace they have seemingly been searching for? And just what toll will this battle have on them all – mentally and physically…

I’ve watched it twice now and I’ll be honest enough to say I still don’t know, with the film’s climax leaving me scratching my head somewhat. That is not a criticism, I just think even now I need more time to digest it properly.

Even so, Relic comes hugely recommended. The performances are tremendous, the design subtly creepy and the chills are sublime. Another Aussie genre effort to add to your must-see list.

Arrow Video Frightfest Review: Relic
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About The Author

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Simon is a journalism tutor in London, who also just happens to be a movie fanatic, with a craving for the darker side of cinema. He has written three books - on the horror films of director Bob Clark (2014), the history of the character Norman Bates (2015) and the work of British exploitation director Pete Walker (2017). He is currently working with director Richard Loncraine to explore all avenues in a bid to orchestrate the re-release of 1978 Mia Farrow chiller Full Circle